When working with people who suffer from migraine headaches, identifying triggers is a major goal of therapy. If we can figure out what initiates your headaches, then we can work towards reducing their severity, frequency, and duration, and even strive to prevent them from developing in the first place.
Unfortunately, identifying triggers is not always easy. Let’s use an example.
You finish eating dinner at 6pm, go to bed at 11pm and toss and turn all night because you’re nervous about a presentation you have to give at work at 8am. You wake up at 7am and have your usual two cups of coffee, then rush to work. You give your presentation, which is followed by two straight hours of meetings so you don’t have a chance to pick up something to eat until 11am, at which point you are craving something sweet so you eat an almond croissant. Then around noon you feel a headache coming on.
What was the trigger?
Was it your poor sleep? The stress of your impending work presentation? The coffee? Dehydration? Your almond croissant? Low blood sugar?
In this case it was most likely a combination of triggers: poor sleep, stress, dehydration, and low blood sugar. But as we try to make connections between our behaviors and our symptoms we sometimes go astray.
For instance, a lot of people will pinpoint the sweet treat (in this case, the almond croissant) as the culprit, because it is most closely associated in time to the onset of their headache. They might suspect it’s the gluten or the refined sugar or the chocolate drizzle on top that triggered their headache. And while that might be true in select cases, more often than not the trigger was actually their low blood sugar. They didn’t fuel their body for 17 hours and this elicited cravings which led to them eating the croissant. The croissant itself is not the enemy!
The Most Common Food Trigger For Headaches…
The most common food trigger for headaches is FASTING. When we fast for long periods of time our blood sugar levels fall and this can trigger headaches.
Some food for thought if you experience recurrent headaches:
- How regularly are you eating throughout the day?
- How long is your overnight fast?
- Do you eat breakfast? And if so, does your breakfast have a balance of lean protein, healthy fats, and carbohydrates?
Could Your Migraines Be Connected To Your Hormones?
Are you noticing that time and time again you are getting a migraine around the start of your period?
Did you know that your estrogen levels are lowest at this time? There is a big drop in estrogen levels at the end of our luteal phase (right before our period), and that drop can be a trigger for migraines.
Treatment strategies exist to help smooth out the drop so that these migraines become less severe and less frequent over time.
Tracking your headaches alongside your menstrual cycle (even if you are using the birth control pill!) can help you identify whether menstrual migraines might be something to discuss with your Naturopathic Doctor.
See related: Healthy hormones and the menstrual cycle
What Are Other Common Triggers?
Other common triggers for headaches include:
- emotional stress
- sleep disturbance
- changes in weather
With the exception of the weather, we have the ability to affect and/or treat these common triggers. Naturopathic doctors can help you figure out your triggers and design an individualized treatment plan that reduces the burden of your headaches.
If you are struggling with headaches, or you would simply like more knowledge and support around your hormonal and menstrual health, please book an appointment today! I offer both in-office and telemedicine appointments.
**Please remember that this article is meant for educational purposes only and should not be viewed as medical advice. You should always discuss any treatment option with a licensed healthcare provider to ensure it will be safe and effective for you.
Learn more about naturopathic care for perimenopause, menopause, and PMS & PMDD.
Other topics that might be of interest to you
Perimenopause – What It Is & How Naturopathic Medicine Can Help
Endometriosis – A Common Cause of Infertility & Menstrual Pain
A Crash Course on Sleep
Healthy Hormones (with video)
Photo by Autumn Goodman on Unsplash
Have questions? As a Naturopathic Doctor in Victoria I am here to support you in your health journey. Please reach out for a meet & greet to get started.